Slashing Global Meat Demand Would Cut Pandemic Risk, Says Tech Firm

'Intensive farming practices have been linked with several disease outbreaks'
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Animal farming has been described as 'problematic' by IDTechEx (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Animal farming has been described as 'problematic' by IDTechEx (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

A 'significant reduction in global meat demand would probably be extremely helpful in stemming the tide of zoonotic disease outbreaks', according to a major tech company.

IDTechEx, which provides business intelligence on emerging technologies, has compiled a report on cultured meat - questioning whether it could 'reduce the world’s reliance on the problematic animal agriculture industry'.

Cultured meat - often referred to as clean or lab meat - is not vegan as it is derived from animal cells. There is currently no set date for it to enter the retail or hospitality sectors, though some companies - notably Memphis Meats - are working with regulatory agencies to bring their products to market.

'Particularly problematic'

One of the major issues IDTechEx identifies with industrial meat production is the role factory farming plays in disease outbreaks and transmission. It describes the current COVID-19 pandemic as 'just the latest zoonotic disease stemming from the meat industry'.

"The problem of wet markets and zoonoses is just part of the wider issue of zoonotic disease outbreaks linked with the global meat industry," the company said in a statement sent to Plant Based News.

"Any system involving an extremely high density of animals in contact with human will lead to risks of disease transmission.

"This is particularly problematic in intensive animal farming systems, where there is often very little genetic diversity between animals, meaning a disease can rapidly spread without meeting any resistance from genetic variants."

Future outbreaks

A number of experts have predicted that future outbreaks are likely unless major changes are made to the way humans interact with animals.

IDTechEx's report concurs with this, saying the likely increasingly common future zoonotic disease outbreaks will 'stem from animal agriculture intensifying as the world struggles to feed its burgeoning population and growing wealth in low-income countries leads to increasing demand for meat'.

Solution?

As a solution, the company says a significant reduction in global meat demand would likely help, though it admits that such a reduction could be difficult to achieve.

"As such, there is a large opportunity for any company that can create a completely realistic substitute for meat products," it says. "Any substitute would need to be almost indistinguishable from conventional meat, have at least price parity with corresponding meat products, and be widely available."

It adds that 'in theory, cultured meat could solve many of the problems associated with the global meat industry', as it would reduce the potential of disease transmission as well as offering 'various environmental and ethical benefits'.

There are issues though: "The industry is still in its infancy and there are many unanswered questions around cultured meat. Consumers are notoriously skeptical of biotechnology in food and the concept of lab-grown meat could be unnatural and unappealing."

Meat tax?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing recession, the UK government is being urged to implement a tax on meat and dairy, as the animal agriculture industry poses health and environmental hazards.

Animal advocacy organization PETA has written to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak suggesting that the revenue from such a tax could be used to ease the burden on the NHS and help farmers transition away from meat and dairy to more climate-friendly arable ventures.

PETA notes that outbreaks of swine flu, avian flu, SARS, HIV, foot-and-mouth disease, mad cow disease, and other zoonotic diseases have stemmed from capturing wild animals or farming animals for food.

'Negative impact tax'

The letter says meat and dairy should 'take their place alongside tobacco, alcohol, sugar, and fuel – all of which are taxed because of their negative impact on human health or the environment'.

It adds: "This would lighten the burden on the already overstretched NHS: modeling predicts that a UK tax on red and processed meats could result in 22 percent fewer deaths and save the health service £700 million a year."

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